My goodness there are a lot of journalist hacks this morning using Canada's result to shill their pet development plan. A kind of "I told you so" that is really sticking in my craw. Eoin O Callaghan and Jason deVos being the prime perps today.
This is the tweet that finally pushed me to write this:
So here's my response.
Yes the Canadian Soccer program for both national teams needs continued development. No one is arguing against that.
No, these women are not an accurate indicator of the current state of that program, given that at least half of them are products of a system that was planned in the 1990s.
Yes we stood and supported these women until we were hoarse and tired. No, that does not mean we are praising "abject failure."
No we did not go easy on them. Some of the harshest criticism of this team I have seen has been from supporters. And the team themselves.
Now I'm no long term CanNWT supporter...I really only started paying attention to them in 2012 and never went to a match until this year, other than a couple of friendlies against Sweden and China in the 1990s when I lived in Ottawa. So I'm a happily ensconced bandwagon guy. I don't know what I'm talking about.
BUT I am the brother of a female elite athlete (my sister was the first woman to play Junior C and Boys high school hockey in Ontario). When she was labouring in the 1980s to bring some respectability to the sport, before anyone cared about women's hockey she poured her entire life into the game with no appreciation. My family sacrificed tens of thousands of dollars and literally years of volunteer labour and driving to support her. And she would have earned a college scholarship if she hadn't had injuries caused by the fact that girls didn't get the same level of coaching and physio support as boys. Her injuries were compounded by basic neglect from those that ran the game around her. And there wasn't one fan not named "Corrigan" cheering for her to succeed in spite of it. So I think I understand a bit what these women are dealing with when they aren't hosting a World Cupin their own living room.
The pundits find it easy to sit on the sidelines and chuck shit at these women by confusing the state of the development program with the dedication of the women who dressed for Canada this month. They all have simple 10 point plans for developing the program but I wonder how many of them will be around in 20 years when those plans produce fruit? I appreciate that journalists have to make a living predating on people's misery and heartbreak and showing how brilliant they are if only we would have adopted their plans. But I don't see them doing anything substantial or coordinated or materially significant to improve the sport.
Jason deVos and Eoin o Callaghan should be on Parliament Hill for the next 12 years every day advocating for the federal government to invest in these women. Otherwise their own plans are basically abject failures. The professional game simply does not have the commercial resources to do it yet and we cannot expect families to pour $50,000+ into developing world class athletes on their own and then launch grenades when we they don't do what we think they should. Despite being the 8th ranked team in the world. They were never going to win this Cup. They finished where we thought they would, even if they finished sooner than we hoped they would.
DeVos said these women were "the products of a broken system." O Callaghan said they were an "abject failure" and "offered nothing." If we see the program as needing to be blown up and restarted from scratch, we are really missing something. I know a little about the development path of girls in the sport and there are lots of things in place now that are working and need expansion. And lots more we could do. Putting Jason deVos in charge would mean starting from scratch and hoping for the best in 2027. He isn't 100% wrong in his analysis, but he is using a sledgehammer to carve a turkey and it is not looking beautiful. Ugh.
A big part of accelerated development of the system of girls elite sports is money. At this point as a parent you invest in your daughter's elite soccer career because it might get her a free ride to a college or university. That's the most you can expect out of a childhood devoted to soccer. And trust me once you get to the REX stage your life becomes the property of the system. And if you get injured or you just don't make the cut, you are dropped and you don't get your high school years back. There is no insurance program. You are in until you are out. That's a brutal decision for a parent to make. So as a proud dad do I invest $50K in my daughter's soccer career or maybe set her up for engineering or pilot training or the trades? If you had 50K to spend on your kid what would you do?
Boys sports just get more. That's all there is to it. The commercial revenues and potential of boys sports towers over what girls have available to them. And that is what it is. But then to call these women "abject failures" is disrespectful and disheartening. If anything they are punching waaaaaay above their weight. The faults of the program, the lost bets we made 15 years ago on development paths, the advancement of the game in other countries...these are not the fault of these women. And we are not naive cheerleaders when we rise to stand behind them at a World Cup. Even when they didn't win it.
I was so proud of Vancouver and the way we showed up on Saturday. We tried to be the force that would help these women exceed expectations against a vulnerable England side. But some tiny defensive errors and a missed chance and we probably are back to a more nuanced conversation about the development of women's soccer and not throwing hyperbole around.
And we could all stand proud to know that we supported these women on the day, and we support them in the aftermath as well with all our hearts, the way supporters should. And when it comes time to talk about the future of the program, we will be right there in the conversation as well.
PS. One of the best things to come out of this World Cup run was the emergence of The Beaver Brigade, a women-led supporter's movement for the Canadian National Women's Team. Their goal is to get more women involved in supporter culture for all the right reasons: because we love this team, and because we love having a good time. They are open to supporters of the CanWNT of all genders and orientations. I joined offcially this morning.